Google Penguin Update Refresh & Recovery Provide Hope For Webmasters

    May 30, 2012
    Chris Crum

As previously reported, Google announced its first Penguin update since the original over Memorial Day weekend. Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, tweeted about it, saying, “Minor weather report: We pushed 1st Penguin algo data refresh an hour ago. Affects <0.1% of English searches." Have you seen search referrals drop or rise since this update? Let us know in the comments.

The good news, whether you were hit by Penguin the first time or this time, is that you can recover. We’ve now seen that this can happen, and since we know that Google will continue to push data refreshes for Penguin, there should be plenty of chances to do so. Just think about all the Panda refreshes we’ve seen since February 2011.

We recently reported on WPMU, a seemingly quality site with plenty of fans on social media channels, which got hit by the first Penguin update. The site has now made a full recovery.

Here’s what the analytics looked like after Penguin:

WPMU analytics

Here’s what the analytics look like now:

WPMU Analytics

It’s worth noting that Cutts was aware of this site, as James Farmer (the site’s owner) was able to get it brought to his attention, following the initial Penguin update, via an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. Cutts had provided some examples of the kinds of links that were likely hurting it. This was all discussed in our previous article, but to summarize, WPMU distributes WordPress themes, and a lot of blogs, including spam blogs were using some of them, which included links back to WPMU in the footer.

Ross Hudgens from Full Beaker provided some assistance and advice for Farmer, and blogged about the experience at SEOmoz. He notes that Farmer opted to ask blogs to remove the links, rather than applying nofollow to them, but it was actually an internal change that Farmer was able to make, which ultimately might have had the greatest impact on the recovery. Hudgens writes:

The most perilous piece of WPMU’s link profile came from one site – EDU Blogs is a blogging service for people in the education space, allowing them to easily set up a subdomain blog on EDUblogs for their school-focused site – in a similar fashion to Blogspot, Typepad, or Tumblr, meaning that each subdomain is treated as a unique site in Google’s eyes. Coincidentally, this site is owned by WPMU and Farmer, and every blog on the service leverages WPMU theme packs. Each of these blogs had the “WordPress MU” anchor text in the footer, which meant a high volume of subdomains considered unique by Google all had sitewide “WordPress MU” anchor text. In what might have been a lucky moment for WPMU, this portion of their external link profile was still completely in their control because of WPMU ownership.

In what I believe is the most critical reason why WPMU made a large recovery and also did it faster than almost everyone else, Farmer instantly shut off almost 15,000 ‘iffy’ sitewide, footer LRDs to their profile, dramatically improving their anchor text ratios, sitewide link volume, and more. They were also able to do this early on in the month, quickly after the original update rolled out. A big difference between many people trying to “clean up their profile” and WPMU is time – getting everything down and adjusted properly meant that many people simply did not see recoveries at refresh 1.1 – but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all if the effort persists.

Farmer was also able to get one of the blogs that Cutts had initially pointed out the links from, to remove the links. According to Hudgens, he also did some other things, which may have played a role in the recovery, such as: implementing canonical URLs to clean up crawl errors and eliminate unnecessary links, fixed some broken sitemaps and submitted them to Webmaster Tools, fixed some duplicate title tag issues (which Webmaster Tools reported). He also submitted the site to the form Google provides for those who think they’ve wrongfully been impacted by Penguin. Twice.

It’s also possible that the exposure this site has received in the media, and in front of Matt Cutts could have helped. We’ve certainly seen penalties come from such exposure.

Not everyone will be able to get such exposure to make their cases as strong to Google, but Google does look at the submissions to that form, so if you’ve determined that you’re in compliance with Google’s quality guidelines, and you still think you were actually hit by Penguin, that’s a good place to start your recovery efforts, but you’ll probably want to continue to dig as much as you can.

Look at all of Google’s quality guidelines. Are there any areas where Google may think you’re in violation? Make the proper changes. Cutts recently pointed to the following videos as recovery advice:

He also said the following tips from Marc Ensign “looked solid”:

  • Create a blog and consistently build up your site into a wealth of valuable content.
  • Work with a PR firm or read a book and start writing legitimate press releases on a regular basis and post them on your site.
  • Visit blogs within your industry and leave valuable feedback in their comments section.
  • Link out to other valuable resources within your industry that would benefit your visitors.
  • Share everything you are creating on 2 or 3 of your favorite social media sites of choice.
  • Position yourself as an expert.

Virginia Nussey at Bruce Clay put together an interesting step-by-step guide to “link pruning” which might help you clean up your link profile, and ease your way to a recovery. She recommends setting up a spreadsheet with the following headers: Target URL, Source URL, Source Rank, Source Craw Date, Anchor Text, Image Link, ALT Text, Nofollow, Redirect and Frame. Then, she recommends adding the following to the spreadsheet, for webmaster contact info: Owner name, IP Address, Owner Address, Owner Email, Owner Phone Number, Registrar Name, Technical Content, Name Servers, Net Name, Created, Updated, Expires, Data Source (what site/registry was the resource for the contact gathered?).

From there, it’s just about sending removal requests and seeing what happens. Hopefully lawsuits aren’t part of your strategy.

We’ll have more discussion with Farmer to share soon, and perhaps he’ll be able to shed a bit more light on his own Penguin recovery. In the meantime, if you’re been hit, perhaps you can view his story as one of hope and inspiration, before you go starting over with a new site (which Google has also suggested as a possible option).

Penguin will be back again. You can recover. Remember, there are always other non-Penguin signals that you can try to improve upon too. You certainly don’t want to forget about our old pal the Panda.

Google called Penguin a success even before the latest refresh. What are your thoughts about it now that we’ve seen an update to the update? Let us know in the comments.